Gramma was a hard working woman in her younger days. She was 6 months pregnant when her husband was killed in a gruesome mine accident. They hadn’t been married a year yet. She was not quite 17. She had to work hard to earn a living to support my Dad. She used to tell me that to work in the garden, you had to get your hands dirty, to clean you had to get your hands dirty….and to make pie crust correctly – you had to get your hands dirty. So…when she saw a young woman who was lazy or spent her days shopping and attending teas or luncheons, her comment was always “there’s one who don’t know how to get her hands dirty” – it was the most scathing comment she used about a woman…well, there was also “that woman don’t know how to make do” applied to wasteful women.
Ladies…you’re going to get your hands dirty if you want to make a perfect pie crust. You won’t be using a mixer of any kind – it changes the structure of your crust. However, this recipe is quick and easy…so easy that last night I whipped out two batches of this recipe in less than 30 min. There are 8 pie crusts in my freezer awaiting inspiration! Those will last me several months…great reward for an easy 30 min.
Before we get to the recipe and pictures, there are some basic things you need to know about the ingredients and equipment that will help you make a better pie. These are thing things I learned from Gramma. I’m asking you to trust me…if you follow my directions and use the correct ingredients you will never regret it! You will EASILY make the best pie crust you’ve ever made – tender, flaky and tasty! Just look at this crust….
The Flour – it is important that you use the right flour in baking and for pie crust that flour is All Purpose! Gramma told me to use Jewell All-Purpose flour and never to use bread flour. She told me that bread flour made a tough crust. She must have learned that from experience because she didn’t know why. However, I’ve learned that bread flour is high in gluten – which is great for bread…but not for a tender flaky pie crust. You also don’t want to use pastry flour. I learned that from experience. I thought it would be perfect for pie crusts – after all that is a pastry! It was very hard to roll out and get into the pan. If I added enough flour to make that easy…the crust was tough. It didn’t hold up well to juicy pies either.
Be sure to buy a good quality flour. Some things marked “great value” really aren’t….if you get my drift. As I said, Gramma always used Jewell but I don’t know if they are around anymore. Here in the south my choices would be White Lilly or King Arthur’s – I usually buy King Arthur’s Unbleached All Purpose Flour.
Now, if Gramma was making a “meat” pie, or even a “veggie” pie, she always used her whole wheat pastry flour. It makes a heavier crust and she believed the heartier crust went well with a hearty supper pie. I have to agree with her 🙂 It holds up much better to the weight and juices of a chicken-pot-pie etc.
The Fat – next ingredient we need to talk about is the “fat” used in your pie crust. Gramma used lard or when it was unavailable, she used Jewell which was like Crisco today. I don’t like to use Lard…I have one child that avoids all things “pig” and lard can leave a “meaty” flavor to your pie crust. I prefer unsalted butter. Use a good brand of unsalted butter – I use Land o’ Lakes. Cheap brands will not perform well. Don’t use margarine – for one thing it is one of the most unhealthy things you can eat (it’s not food – it’s a chemical concoction…don’t get me started!) and margarine will reward you with a very tough pie crust!
However, when I don’t have that, I use Crisco. Plain Crisco – don’t use the fake butter flavor stuff – your crust will have a “fake chemically butter” flavor. Again, brands matter! Spring for the Crisco brand.
The Acid – .Gramma always used a splash of white vinegar…when I asked her why, she told me it was because her mother used a splash of vinegar. I have since learned that a bit of an acid (vinegar, lemon juice etc.) inhibits the gluten in the flour from developing which results in a flakier pie crust. That’s our goal! I don’t use the white vinegar that Gramma used…I use Rice Vinegar – it’s healthier. I believe Gramma’s splash was between 2 and 3 teaspoons so I just use a tablespoon in place of the splash and it works perfectly!
The Salt – Use kosher salt – Gramma did but I don’t know why. This crust is so good that I figure why mess with perfection!
The Egg – farm fresh of course – you want a deep orange yolk – spring for the “organic, range fed” healthiest eggs you can get – or visit your local farmer or farmer’s market.
The Sugar – make sure it says “pure cane” sugar – if it doesn’t it’s beet sugar and most likely genetically modified and we don’t want that in our pie….do we? My advice – not Gramma’s!
The Water – the water must be very cold…icy cold! I fill a two cup measure with ice and then pour the water over it when I start my pie. By the time I use it the whole glass is frosty. Believe me, it makes a difference!
The Pan – you might be surprised at this, but the pan really does matter. Gramma’s whole kitchen was filled with cast iron skillets and aluminum cookware – most kitchens back then were the same. Aluminum conducts heat the best. She had aluminum pots and pans, roasters, cookie sheets, and cake pans…BUT – Gramma’s pie plates were glass. She said they made the best crust. I’ve tried all kinds myself but Gramma was right – just a cheap, plain, Anchor Hocking or Pyrex plate works best. You can pick them up at yard sale for 25 cents – no one makes pies anymore – they settle for the tasteless, chemical copies you can find in your grocer’s freezer. I’m sure they are less than $5 at the big box stores. Trust me…you NEED a glass pie plate! And you will be greasing it with a light coating of Crisco – brand name – not butter flavored!
So…gather your ingredients and the right pan….next post we’re making the best pie crust you’ve ever tasted with step-by-step pictures! Then, after that, French Silk Pie – a picture tutorial!
Get busy now!